If you have eczema, you might have been told to stop scratching your itchy skin — advice that can seem impossible to follow. Instead, some people with this skin condition use new types of devices called scratching tools specifically designed to soothe itchiness without breaking their skin. These tools provide relief by applying pressure on, rubbing, or cooling the itchy, scaly, dry patches of skin that characterize eczema.
Some scratchers are designed as roller balls that massage skin, and others have bumps or ridges for scratching without damaging skin. A third type is made of soft silicone and rubs against your skin. These newly developed tools are not yet sold in the United States — products billed as treatments for medical conditions typically require U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval to be available for sale. However, some sellers outside the U.S. offer international shipping.
Medically known as pruritus, itchy skin is very common among people with eczema. Researchers estimate that pruritus affects between 80 percent and 100 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, the most common type of eczema. Much research is currently focused on finding out what causes itch.
Unfortunately, giving in to the urge to scratch can backfire. In the itch-scratch cycle, extreme itchiness makes you scratch, which makes your eczema worse, resulting in more itchiness and more scratching, and so on. Many members of MyEczemaTeam are familiar with this uncomfortable cycle. “Uncontrollably itchy today! Made myself bleed,” shared one member of MyEczemaTeam.
Scratching your skin with your fingernails is especially dangerous because it can easily injure the skin, causing bleeding and exposure to bacteria, leading to secondary infection. But what about scratching tools? Many members of MyEczemaTeam wonder if scratchers offer a good solution, while others already use do-it-yourself (DIY) scratching tools — for example, a comb, pen, pumice stone, back scratcher, or even a fork.
If you’re thinking about using a scratching tool for your eczema, keep reading to learn several important points regarding these devices.
Just because a scratching tool is marketed as safe doesn’t guarantee that it won’t cause harm, especially if you have sensitive skin. Currently, no commercially available scratching tools have been recommended or endorsed by leading eczema societies. Be sure to get your dermatologist’s advice regarding the safety of a scratching tool you’d like to try.
Some of the commercially available scratching tools have been marketed as safe for children. However, without the FDA’s evaluation and approval, a device can’t be assumed to be safe to help relieve itchiness caused by your child’s eczema. Be sure to speak with their doctor before giving your child a scratching tool.
Some members of MyEczemaTeam reach for DIY scratching tools to help relieve their itch. “I’ve tried everything. ... I found that a pumice stone is best for scratching,” shared one member. “I actually use a fork on my back,” another said. “Tried everything else, and this is the only thing that works.”
Although these solutions can provide temporary relief, it’s best to avoid them. DIY scratchers:
Be sure to tell your health care provider if you’re using a DIY scratching tool. They can let you know if there are better ways to control your itching.
The effectiveness of scratching tools is highly individual — what calms one person’s itchiness might have no effect for someone else. In addition, even “safe” scratching can worsen your itch by creating a scratching habit. It may be best to avoid scratching altogether — but that’s not always easy. Let your dermatologist know if you need more help with managing itchiness. Many recently approved medications for eczema address itch reduction.
If you decide to use a scratching tool, it’s essential to keep it clean. Dirty scratchers can damage your skin and expose it to bacteria, causing skin infections.
Be sure to thoroughly clean and dry your scratcher before and after each use. Inspect the tool frequently for signs of damage. Never use a scratching tool that is broken or has signs of damage, such as a scraped surface. Carefully follow cleaning instructions from the manufacturer or your dermatologist. Use a gentle, fragrance-free cleanser, because harsh cleaners can cause contact dermatitis and worsen eczema.
Many people use moisturizers — creams, gels, ointments, emollients, or lotions — for eczema symptom relief. Some find it helpful to put the moisturizer in the refrigerator to give it a cooling effect on the skin to reduce itch. Some commercially available scratchers, such as roller balls, can help spread your moisturizer on the affected area of your skin. Be sure to clean your tool thoroughly afterward to remove any moisturizer residue.
In addition to using scratchers, members of MyEczemaTeam have tried other home remedies to help decrease the itching that comes with eczema flare-ups. Alternative treatments include:
Some of these methods are considered safe and recommended by doctors. For example, the National Eczema Association recommends oatmeal baths to help with itching.
On the other hand, research on many other home remedies is lacking. Be sure to ask your health care professional which home remedies are safe and effective for you or your loved ones.
For many people, over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription eczema treatments work well enough so they don’t have a need for scratching tools. These mainstays of eczema treatment can also be used with scratchers.
OTC treatments for eczema include:
Severe eczema often requires prescription treatments, such as the following:
Eczema flare-ups can be hard to manage, and it may be tempting to grab anything available to help scratch the itch. Scratching tools that don’t break the skin may be safer than some DIY solutions, but these devices aren’t FDA approved. Your health care provider can best advise you on whether a scratcher has a place in the eczema treatment plan for you or your child, as well as give you pointers on how to use scratching tools safely and effectively.
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Have you or a loved one used a scratching tool to help with eczema itch? Did it offer any relief? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.